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October 25, 2018
There are hundreds of different birthday cakes readily available to us these days. Between white, German chocolate, marble, red velvet, ice cream, and so many other favorites, the choices are endless, but have you ever wondered where the birthday cake tradition came from?
You can thank the ancient Greeks for your birthday cake! While the first known birthday cake was made in Germany, it is actually the Greeks who coined the term “birthday cake”. However, ancient Egyptians are to be credited with inventing the celebration of birthdays. When pharaohs were crowned, they became Gods. The day a Pharaoh was crowned is known as their “birth” as a god. Ancient Greeks then borrowed this tradition from the Egyptians. The Greeks would bake moon-shaped cakes to offer up to Artemis as a tribute. They would then decorate these cakes with candles that would shine in a very similar way that the moon shined. This is the reason why we light candles on our birthday cakes.
Modern birthday celebrations gotten their roots from a German celebration called Kinderfest. On a child’s birthday, he or she would receive a large cake with lighted candles that added up to the child’s current age plus an additional year. The additional candle; the “light of life” represented the hope of another year for the child to live. Rumor has it that the birthday girl or boy was not able to eat the cake until the candles burned all throughout the day. Once the candles died on their own, the cake could then be enjoyed by all those celebrating the child’s birthday.
While we now have an endless list of different types of cakes, bakeries that customize our favorite desserts and cake kits, like an awesome rocket DIY cake kit, this wasn’t always the case. Earlier on, cakes were made from bread-like products and typically had a very coarse texture. They did not have flavored icing or layers, nor did cakes incorporate elaborate designs like many customized and personalized cakes do today. And if cakes did include icing, layers, and designs, they were only available to the wealthy and upper class. Because of this, the birthday tradition didn’t gain popularity until the Industrial Revolution. By the time the Industrial Revolution came around, cheaper ingredients and utensils were more readily available which in-turn made the ingredients for cakes more affordable and increasingly popular.
You may also be wondering where the “Happy Birthday” song originated. It may surprise you that the “Happy Birthday” song was originally called “Good Morning to You”. In 1893 two teachers, Patty Hill and Mildred J. Hill wrote and named it as a student-welcoming song before classes started for the day. It was not until 1924 that Robert H. Coleman presented this song with an alternate stanza, which then incorporated the words “Happy Birthday to You”. This version became widely popular and is now what we know as the popular candle-blowing song.
Next time you decide to make throw a birthday party for one of your loved ones or have one thrown in your honor, make sure you thank the ancient Greeks for each delicious and sweet bite!